Murder Molehill Mayhem!

 

By Stephen James

 

Isn’t it unusual how human beings congregate together through habit and in different social environments, chattering and listening at the same time? They share their stories, both brief and epic in differing layers of intimacy, all dependent upon how well they know the individual in question. The surroundings have little impact on the quantity of divulgence. Sure as sunset, our mood can influence it. At work, it can become quite deep if the acquaintance has been elevated to friend status. Exaggerations have to be filtered or diluted down. Facts are sometimes difficult little creatures for individuals to keep aligned in their mind’s drawer. Occasions when these tend to elevate are when one person is trying to impress a member of the opposite sex. Yes, it is a world of listening, speaking, sharing, believing and disbelieving, which can be at anytime, anywhere and anybody.
Such as this place…

An icy chill had lowered its unwelcome presence at Unwark, Newhaven, on the eastern coastline of the United States. The suburb, nestled about eleven miles out of town, was connected via a splendid grid of bus routes dotted with stops. The vehicles, which ferried the commuters with magnificent punctuality into downtown Newhaven, ran practically non-stop. Newhaven’s substantial population boom, after the discovery of copper at nearby Old Soak Town, had forced its urban sprawl back in the 1940s. Unwark was one of these newer regions, the rest of the city dates back to the 1600s. On this particular day, it was 7:35 am and it was the end of January, therefore, the tail-end of winter was still wagging. The year was 1989. At bus stop number 19, on the corner of Cypress Street and Anglerfish Road, Mrs Alton, a rather large woman of fifty well-worn years, was in full flight with Mrs Dingleworth. Agnes Alton had a mouth on her like a conveyer-belt. It just never stopped. Finally, she paused for some air…

“Oh, I couldn’t agree more,” said Mrs Dingleworth in false agreement, having only been able to process about thirty per cent of Agnes’s Gatling-gun onslaught. She needed to change the subject. “Did I mention my next-door neighbour’s oddity to you?”

“No. Oh, do go on!”

“Well, they don’t usually argue as a rule. Not audibly anyway I mean. But the other day I heard him say quite loudly, that if she didn’t stop visiting the Witch’s Society; a club of silly girls who dress up and sit around casting spells on each other, then he would…”

“Would, would, would… what?”

“He said he would kill her!” She grabbed Agnes for dramatic effect, then giggled to defuse her acquaintance’s startle. “I think he suspects she’s up to no good and he is just laying down the law. I think they are actually a very loving couple.”

Several other passengers were nearby. Some listening, others oblivious to anything outside of their newspapers. Two children were bouncing a basketball non-stop from 7:03 am, which was when they arrived. A hiss of brakes interrupted their conversation. This was Joan Dingleworth’s ticket to peace and quiet. A latecomer dashed through the melting snow. It was as if the hurry-music in his head had suddenly started. Agnes waved goodbye, unfulfilled by only the story’s bait, and wanting the meaty details; hers was the next bus to Lilydale. The two children did not board either, ergo Agnes would have to endure the confounded thumping of the ball a while longer. Before her bus arrived, a gaggle of four teenage girls wearing school uniforms converged under the roof of stop 19. They were all chewing gum and speaking three at a time in very high-pitched tones, with one alternating listener. Agnes grew even more impatient, deciding to take on the chilly air outside as a way to avoid the ruckus. She only appreciated the sound of her own vocal cords. Her friend, Vera Kennedy, whose closest companion was a small Yorkshire Terrier called Bunty, approached with a wind-assisted walk. Bunty, as usual, was scampering out front at the end of his retractable leash. Boston born Vera resplendently rounded her vowels with Royal Family aplomb and was always overdressed for any occasion. She held her hand out ready to shake way before her arrival.

“Hello Agnes, honey,” she said on the hover, observing Mrs Alton’s lips on the verge of opening. “I can’t stop this morning. Meeting my new man for breakfast at Clarissa’s Pop ‘n’ Stop. He’s devilishly handsome and thinks I am wonderful. Can’t believe my luck.” She withdrew her leather glove and blew a kiss at her friend. “Ta-ta!”

“Have fun now,” replied Agnes, flicking an unimaginative wave out of jealousy.

At last the bus arrived and the bouncing ceased its monotonous rhythm.

The following Monday morning at the bus shelter, the 8:00 am commuting crowd was building toward double figures. Mrs Alton, who was busily fussing with her umbrella in expectancy of drizzle, overheard Mr Ballinger saying something to Mr Czernovski. It went like this. “Tell you what, Czernovski, did you see on the Sunday night news? That bloke from the east side of the city did his wife in with a carving knife. Tried to tell the cops it was an accident! Yeah, six accidents in a row… all around her heart!”

“Wow! that is stifling. It reminds me,” interrupted Agnes Alton, who was catching the later bus this morning, “you should have been here last week. I was speaking to a woman who had just heard her next-door neighbour threaten to kill his wife because she’s a witch.”

“A witch did you say? I don’t believe we’ve met,” said Ballinger offering his hand, “Carl is my name, Carl Ballinger and this is Jake Czernovski.”

“Yes indeed. “Death will soon be upon you!” he’d threatened. I got it straight from the horse’s mouth. An honest woman that Joan Dingleworth — straight as an arrow! My name is Agnes, but you can call me Mrs Alton. We are not on first names yet young man!”

Rotund Jake rubbed his red beard. “Oh, good golly, you can’t go around believing everything you hear Mrs Alton. People do tend to exaggerate things at times. Ballinger here is a policeman. Just ask him about some of the mountains he’s seen made out of molehills—”

She turned on him like a thunder cloud…

“Well, how rude! If you don’t mind,” cutting Czernovski short, and withdrawing her hand with a huff, “we have only just met and already you have rubbed me up the wrong way. Excuse me!” Agnes stepped forward, relieving herself of their company.

Ballinger hunkered in alongside the busybody, politely coughing her attention. “Please accept an apology on behalf of my friend and I. All Jake meant was that the Newhaven PD cannot go around investigating every single rumour that gets tossed around.” He was a fraction behind her peripheral vision and giving his friend a wink. “I do believe your friend’s concern is possibly a correct one. Say, why don’t you take my card and keep in touch if anything else arises from this? There are two numbers, one is my private home number and the other will get me at the station.” Carl offered Agnes the plain but clear piece of cardboard.

“Alright, I shall accept your apology Officer Ballinger, and your card.”

At that precise moment the bus skidded to a halt and the bifold doors opened with a hiss, but nobody alighted. A small group, including the three, squeezed onboard. It was standing room only. Czernovski and Ballinger had the displeasure of listening to Mrs Alton’s complaints about the rudeness of the younger generation of today, as well as a laboriously detailed account of her version of Mrs Dingleworth’s little tale, all the way into Lilydale. Beside them, another middle-aged woman with bright purple hair was challenging her for the airwaves with her longwinded account of her husband’s wicked ways. Her booming voice drowned Agnes’s. Finally, before she parted at the mall, the purple-haired lady’s last few words went…

“This is an amazing admission of mine, but please, don’t whatever you do, tell so and so…”

An excited Mrs Alton hurried to the bus stop early the next morning. Her nosey head bobbing about, filtering the passing crowd, in search of the remotest acquaintance who may be catching the same bus as she. One by one, the murmuring crowd began to swell. Agnes burst into full verbal action with Eric Standwater whose three, of four, pet goldfish had mysteriously passed away in the night. She had a remedy for the prevention of a similar fate for the sole remaining one. In a blink, the crowd thinned when the bus to the bay pulled up, delivering four African American college students, and whisking away most of the gathered commuters. Eric, being one of them. Agnes grew impatient in the brisk wind that had begun to swirl the gently dropping snow. She was hoping to receive an update from her bus-shelter friend, but Mrs Dingleworth was nowhere to be seen. The busybody’s head flick-flacked back and forth like a sideshow alley clown, checking the pavement. What if the brute next door had gone on a rampage and killed her?

Minutes later, those four annoying teenage schoolgirls, who cared precious little for peace and quiet, engulfed the little building in their daily squawking. Mrs Alton hated their routine hair twirling and gum chewing, not to mention how sick her ears were of listening to their boy problems. She took refuge on the other side where, at last, the familiar figure of Joan Dingleworth was approaching in full stride. Before Joan was even in earshot, Agnes began her broadside of questions about the killer. Joan knew they would be coming, she waved excitedly with her free hand, clasping a raincoat with the other. Both women’s voices met within metres — soon entwining in a venturous hen hackle. As it thinned to a respectable alternating Spanish Inquisition, stimulated by the very mention of the words “murder” and “close-by”, the accumulating crowd encircled both women.

“So, has it gotten worse since we last met?” asked Agnes, making sure they could all hear.

“Let me simply put it this way for you to decide. There I was, nonchalantly pruning my border gardens, as one does at this time of year, when I heard his voice as clear as the Liberty Bell, roughly saying; “Your shenanigans and crafty witchcraft ways do not fool me. We have a serious problem here and I need you to make up your mind how we deal with it. Without attention, unfortunately Evanora, a hasty death seems imminent!” That is her name. Evanora then replied; “Tomorrow I am visiting Jadis, Locasta, Theodora and Medea. I have to, Seth…” those are her crazy friends with witch’s names. Her husband is Seth. Then she said; “…because it is our one and only shot at a full moon.” He cut her off with a raised voice and said; “Make up your mind what is more important, but let me warn you, the days are numbered!” I was right next to the fence. It was loud and clear, Agnes.”

“Oh my gosh! What should we do?”

“Well, I for one am not going to personally interfere.”

“Have you called the police?”

“No. I wasn’t quite sure if I should. Nothing’s happened yet. Only talk. Do you think they would do something?”

Agnes assumed control. “Well, I have already informed an officer. He took me very seriously, even gave me a card with his personal home phone number on it!”

Joan grinned. “Perhaps he’s interested in a liaison. You know, of the personal kind.”

Agnes needed more sizzle on her plate. “Nonsense, but either way, we should get together socially. We have so much in common. I too like to garden in my spare time. Let me offer you my phone number and address. I can take yours down as well.” Mrs Alton rummaged around in her handbag for a pen and paper. “I am in Cypress Street at number 41.”

“Really, well my house is in Anglerfish Road at number 668. I am surrounded by trees. Evanora, the witch, lives at number 666. Kind of spooky. Don’t you think?”

Right at that very moment, Vera Kennedy was making a beeline for the packed pavement. Yorkshire Terrier Bunty’s fully extended lead had her in a water-skier tow. Mrs Kennedy had decided it was ‘sable day’ today, therefore, at this precise second she had the chance to flaunt her fur. Bunty found the centre of the group, pulling Vera shoulder to shoulder with Agnes. “Good morning fellow Unwarkians!” she trumpeted, ceasing the conversation in a twirl. “What’s the skulduggery today then?” The sable stole slipped a fraction.

“Off for another date are we, Vera?” snapped Mrs Alton, hating to be upstaged.

“Yes, but not till five past eight. He’s scrumptious — like melting chocolate, and simply can’t get enough of me!” She flicked the stole’s end back over her shoulder. “Oh, c’mon girls, I’m early… do fill me in on the latest goss.”

Another bus arrived, whisking away the satisfied crowd, and leaving the three extroverts to their exchanges. Agnes allowed Joan the privilege of divulging the story while she patted Bunty. This was rewarded with a detailed exchange of her latest conquest’s generosity, which more than made up for his awkward habit of displaying affection in public places. Vera rolled back her sleeve, revealing a stunning heart-shaped Omega.

“Latest present! Goodness me, see how it flies when you’re with good company. Must get a wiggle on, Roger will be as antsy as a blindfolded tightrope walker. One mustn’t keep a love-hungry pet unfed! Ta-ta.” She tugged Bunty from his pat and pranced toward Clarissa’s Pop ‘n’ Stop.

Joan Dingleworth watched her disappear around the street corner, envious of her trim figure and ignoring Agnes’s rude remarks. At last, their bus arrived just as a light blanket of snow began to settle. An uncharacteristically late Jake Czernovski had to grasp the top of his hat as he ran to catch the city-bound bus. His belly wobbling with each stride. His red beard held stiff in the breeze.

After a long day’s work for the law firm she had been with for sixteen years, Mrs Alton eventually put her feet up at her home in Cypress Street. In her hand was a well-earned cup of tea. On her knee was her favourite women’s magazine. Beside her lay her Persian cat, Bartholomew. She had all but forgotten about the morning’s dramatics.

Until the telephone rang…

The bumptious know-all seized the handset from its rotary dialling cradle. “Yes hello, Agnes Alton here. Who may I ask is speaking?”

The voice from the other end came, “Agnes, it is me, Joan Dingleworth!”

“This is earlier than I expected, Joan. I am a little tired this evening—”

Joan interjected, “I had to call you. Moments ago, I was watering over by the fence and I heard him on the telephone. It’s happened!”

“What has happened?”

“The murder! I distinctly heard Seth saying; “I’ve got her body in a bag. Hurry up and get home, will you? I want to make sure we dispose of it properly!” Joan was overwhelmed with excitement. “I don’t know who he was talking to or who has been killed but I heard it as clear as crystal.”

“Stay put Joan and don’t panic. I shall call Officer Ballinger immediately. He told me he lives close by. Do not go over there. Do you hear me!”

“No, of course not. I’m not that silly. Please hurry!”

Agnes practically dialled the numbers off her old-fashioned phone. She heard Carl Ballinger’s voice. He was in his pyjamas watching television.

“I told you, Officer Ballinger!” she squawked, offering a highlighted rendition of her friend’s eavesdropping. It finished, “… now you must come at once, Joan is very concerned for her own safety. I must be there to comfort her. Can you pick me up on the way through?” She gave him her address and no alternative. “I’ll be waiting out front.”

“Call that other number on my card, Mrs Alton, it will get straight through to my colleagues,” he stressed. “Relay your message and tell them we’ve spoken. I must have some backup. I’m on my way!” Carl pulled on a pair of trousers straight over the top of his pyjamas and wrestled on a shirt, boots without socks, and a departmental storm jacket. He had no time to lose. Being a beat walker, the concerned policeman had to use his own car.

Feeling as though she was a very important link in the chain of events, meddler Agnes Alton made the two calls. One telling the police to hurry along to 666 Anglerfish Road, the other to Mrs Dingleworth, letting her know she’d taken care of matters. Minutes later, after locking Bartholomew safely in her orchid house next to the garage, she stood freezing outside under the streetlight. Hurrying to the epoch-making event, off-duty Ballinger whisked her away; the gloomy chill-filled darkness of nightfall seemed to be following them to the crime scene. They pulled up in front of number 668 Anglerfish, shrouded by a row of kerbside hedge maples. Observant Carl saw Joan behind the front door — security chain in place. He tiptoed in front of her, close by the porch. Her fingers were protruding between the gap, and wiggling about, pointing to her neighbour. She began to utter a few words, but he hushed her with his forefinger to his lips as his footprints marked her snowy front lawn. Ballinger’s senses heightened with each step, eyes scanning — ears pricked — nose drawing deep smooth breaths. The neighbourhood lay in silent wait. With identity badge firmly clasped, he climbed the five wooden steps completely mindful of the horrific danger that may be lying behind that front door. He knocked firmly. “Anyone home? Hello, is there anybody inside?”

Nothing but the wind in the trees. Carl looked to the street which fed from the main road for his backup patrol car. There were no saving headlights, he had to go alone. He knocked stridently once more. “Open up, this is the police!”

But again, there was no answer. He increased the strike. Still no answer…

Was he too late?

Suddenly, his peripheral vision noticed a pair of headlights turning into the street at the same time as the door slowly opened a fraction. There was no wailing siren.

“Yes,” muttered a young man, holding firmly onto the timber casing. His eyes, with episodic blinks, looked to be hiding some strange emotions. “What can I do for you, officer?”

Carl was feeling the tension, but he didn’t show it. Every nerve in his body seemed like a strained harp-string ready to snap at a touch. “You must permit me to enter. I have a well-informed reason to believe—”

His announcement was interrupted by the car swerving into the driveway. Behind the steering wheel sat a woman. She hastily opened her car door. Evanora climbed out still wearing her witch’s outfit, tall pointed hat in her hand. “What is going on, Seth? Why is this man here?”

“Hold your position miss!” ordered Ballinger, bewildered by her ridiculous attire and forcing his way past. “I am the police and it is imperative that I search your residence!” Seth allowed entry.

Once inside, he immediately threw a comprehensive search around the entire space — lips pressed firmly together assisting his concentration. Each detail of the room’s characteristics was being mentally recorded. When Seth attempted to speak, the edgy policeman held up his palm to hush his words. It didn’t take very long for the seasoned beat cop’s keen eyes to spot the large, well-stuffed, black, plastic bag that was partially screened behind the couch. Evanora had ignored his warning and followed him into the poorly lit lounge room. A nasty odour permeated throughout the smallish house. The pressure-cooker situation pressed heavily on the shoulders of the witch and the killer. Carl approached the motionless lump as a lion stalks its prey. The young couple fell silent, hands squeezing from uncertainty and not quite knowing how to deal with the situation, as the drama unfolded. They looked at one another with a lugubrious wash across both of their faces. He knelt beside the smooth curvy mound. Then placed his hand on its cold outline…

Ballinger’s steely glare burned its way towards the nervous couple’s embrace. “I suppose you are going to tell me that this is your laundry?”

Evanora burst into tears, but it was Seth’s sullen voice that answered his question. “Not at all officer. This was our beloved pet St Bernard, Maggie. She has been sick for some time now. I knew it would happen soon. She died earlier this morning and I wanted Evanora to hurry home so we could take her to the pet mortuary. We couldn’t afford to have her collected.” He held her tight. “Silly girl thought her crazy friends could cast a spell to save her from the inevitable.”

Carl pulled back the bag opening to be confronted by the huge, brown-and-white, furry head. He felt rather foolish. “I’d better give you a hand then,” he said with a wry smile.

The sound of a whirring siren, drawing closer by the second, filled their ears. Carl was not looking forward to explaining how he managed to get caught up in this exaggerated molehill to his approaching colleagues. No doubt, it will take a while to live this one down at the station.

The following morning before the dawn broke, at bus stop number 19, a small chattery crowd began to muster.

“I got it straight from Mrs Alton. She was there you know!” yapped Mrs Worthington. “She phoned me last night to let me know that she wouldn’t be catching her usual bus. It was the drama you know.”

“Drama… What drama?” asked Mr Ziebell-Doerff.

Sensing the spotlight’s circle, Mrs Worthington plunged into a full explanation. “Oh yes there were three, or was it four, police cars in total outside the witch’s house at 666 Anglerfish. The dead body was in a bag! Dreadful set of circumstances!”

Mr Ziebell-Doerff leaned in, eagerly replying, “Was it cold-blooded murder?”

“I’m sure it had to be. They caught them red-handed you know, Friedrich. This sort of thing never normally happens in our neighbourhood.”

The crowd began to swell, as another dramatic rumour mountain began emerging…

 

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Another ten-minute thriller… the devil inside!

If you love the attraction of a powerful story — wrapped around a dramatic setting, you will have to allow this picture to nudge you off the starting line. As if a door were suddenly left ajar into some world unseen before, allow yourself to drift back in time to the years of nostalgia.

The morning fog had finally lifted. The raging surf was like the advancing lines of an unknown enemy, endlessly flinging itself upon the shoreline. Her lonesome figure stood precariously… barely inches from the spikey grassed edge. Doreen McCumhail, whose dark hair and dark eyes were thought to be descendant traits from the Spanish Armada crews of the mid-1500s, had trekked the well-worn trail known as the Doolin Cliff Walk and been to the top of O’Brien’s Tower on numerous occasions with her father, Dermott. She’d walked with him from the Cliffs of Moher’s most southern point at Hag’s Head, every step of the eighteen kilometres to see the giant stalactite in Doolin Cave where the rockface descends seaward. Soaring to 214 metres at their peak, at the Burren Region, the etched stone cliff face reaches its long fingers southward to counties Cork and Kerry beyond. The girl’s keen eyes had often spotted the Aran Islands in Galway Bay to the north. She’d travelled all the way to Malin Head at the very northern tip of Ireland’s Inishowen Peninsula, in County Donegal, and visited as far south to the safe haven of Kinsale Harbour in the very southern region.

In the dead of a cold Irish winter, late in December, the wind-whipped sea spray fills the air with the invigorating freshness off this rugged east coast. It has been this way for millions of years with nature’s slow carve sculpting the future. The Wild Atlantic Way is a sensational, winding, 2,750-kilometre journey of soaring cliffs and buzzing towns. It boasts a feast of hidden beaches and epic bays smattered with wildlife; like chattering kittiwakes, Atlantic puffins, and if you’re fortunate enough, even an elusive peregrine falcon. During modern times you can drive its full length. Many, like Doreen, trek across the clifftop, the edges peaking slightly upwards like the crests of the haunting waves that roll endlessly below. Eyes cast out to sea, would find it hard not to feel as though you were braving the ocean from the prow of a magnificent ship. It was along this stretch of the south-western Irish coast, at the dramatic Cliffs of Moher, that Doreen McCumhail from Kilshanny, County Clare had ridden her bicycle to the base of O’Brien’s Tower. It stands just to the north of the cliff’s halfway mark. Constructed in 1835, this round stone tower captures the staggering beauty of the views from the top of a jutting angular sheer face.

Now at eighteen years of age, the pretty and shapely lass had refused the flirtatious invitations of almost every boy in Kilshanny — waiting for Mr Right to stray her way. It was nearly Christmas 1965, at a time when the influence of Britain’s rock invasion had grasped the world firmly. Young Miss McCumhail wore her raven-coloured hair in a tall bouffant and her panda-style eye makeup enhanced her already large eyes. The morning’s brisk cutting wind would deter many from the view; the way she liked it. Requiring a doubled silk scarf to protect her locks, and a matching chequered twill-woven gabardine skirt and coat, she gazed through a dream. Here, she could face the white-water of the ocean waves and contemplate her future. At Doolin village, the music capital of Ireland, her sweet voice had proven popular with the squeezebox and fiddle players, so much so, that she aspired to become part of the mushrooming ’60s pop culture.

Transfixed, Doreen never noticed a stranger approaching from the south. With both hands thrust deeply into his trouser pockets and brandishing a strong swaying stride, came a whistling twenty-one-year-old man from Ennis. This medium town was on the Fergus estuary of the famous Shannon, Ireland’s longest river. His name was Deaghlan O’Brien and he worked as a carpenter. Today, which was Wednesday, was his monthly day off. He and his boss were adding an extension to the O’Cléirigh’s pub at Lisdoonvarna, an hour’s stroll away. Confident by nature, but far from confident about the height of the drop, Deaghlan called out to her to encourage her attention. “Aye, miss! If you just aren’t the loveliest thing I’ve seen since I was but a boyeen. And just pray tell me, what would a fine young lass, as pretty as yourself, be a-wantin’… so close to that terrifying edge?”

Doreen turned to match the face to the voice she had just heard. “And… what business of yours might it be, where I do stand?” She clearly took notice of his rugged good looks with a smile wider than the proverbial Emerald Isle itself.

He froze in his tracks about twenty metres from her and removed his cloth cap. “Why, b’ Jesus, you are even prettier from the front! M’ name is Deaghlan O’Brien… What name might ya go by? Please be careful, miss. Are you from close-by these parts?”

“Yes, I’m a local girl, from Kilshanny, no less. I’m not a bit afraid,” she laughed, noticing his angst. “My father and I would flirt with the very edge, when I was barely a three-year-old! Why should I tell you m’ name, at any rate?”

The wind buffeted her from behind. She fought to keep her hair in place.

Deaghlan inched toward her. “Please, you’re puttin’ the willies up me, b’ Jesus. Come away, before the wind changes and takes you from me, forever!”

“I might be a-wantin’ to jump for all you know, Deaghlan O’Brien! Next up, ya’l be tellin’ me you’re a long-lost relation of Sir Cornelius, the man responsible for buildin’ this monstrosity!” Her smile grew larger than his, and with it her face lit up the beaten pathway between them.

“To be sure… I am just that. He’s me father’s great, great, oh… I dunno how many times, grandfather. And show some respect, will ya?”

“Well, my name is Doreen McCumhail, from Kilshanny and I’m on me way to becomin’ a pop star, no less. So, how d’you like that? You may be a handsome specimen, Deaghlan O’Brien, but when it comes to risk with gals and cliff faces, I’m bettin’ you are a fraidy-cat!”

“As sure as the mood strikes, I’ll come an’ spank your cheeky backside!”

“Oh, will ya now? Well, you’ll have to catch me first… I’ll also be bettin’ that you’d be far too slow!” Doreen leapt onto her bicycle — parked leaning on a weathered fence surrounding the tower and pushed hard on the pedals. She untied her scarf and let it go with a burst of laughter. Deaghlan caught it in the wind, stalling him a second as he watched her withdraw the combs holding her bouffant hairstyle in place. They landed on the path. At once, she flicked her waist-length black tresses and looked back over her shoulder. “Return them if you catch me!”

He scooped up the pink combs and broke into a full stride. “Aye… you’re a sassy minx worth a-chasin’. I’ll teach you a lesson in humility, Doreen McCumhail from Kilshanny!”

Doreen pedalled with everything she had, leaving him pounding in her wake. He ran like a deer along the undulating path as it ventured alongside the drop. The girl on the bicycle shrank further and further into the distance. As he gradually gave her up as a lively memory lost forever, the young carpenter puffed his way back to a jog, then back to a walk. Doreen disappeared over a distant hill.

A struggling sun peeped its way from behind the winter clouds lifting Deaghlan’s lost spirits. His heart had been warmed by his brief encounter, but he had little, other than a silk scarf and four combs to show for it; they remained stuffed, one in either side, in his trouser pockets. His fingers twiddling the soft material on the left and plucking the springy teeth on the right. He’d returned to the tune he had been whistling twenty minutes ago as a stranger passed by…

It was an aging man who raised his hat, saying, “The top of the mornin’ to ya, m’ boy.”

Deaghlan tipped his cloth cap, replying, “And the remainder o’ the day ta yourself.”

“A fine day to be a-findin’ true love!” sparked the man’s character-filled face, perhaps noticing the glow in the much younger man’s eyes. “Ya be an O’Brien if ever I saw one, that be for sure!”

O’Brien nodded the plaudit, keeping his eyes on the trail, knowing his chance had gone begging. What if he had said something different? What if he had displayed more courage to her? After all, women did like to be saved — even when they weren’t in danger. His mind pondered the ifs buts and maybes, as his sightline ventured towards the horizon. Something he suddenly noticed was how close to the precipice he was strolling, almost as if the girl from Kilshanny had unlocked his fear of heights. At least something good had come of it. Usually, when walking this route if heading north he would always stay well to the righthand side, and consequently, when heading south, he would remain strategically far to the left. Deaglan wandered up the hill he had last seen her disappear over — eyes confidently out to sea. He rounded a bend adjacent to an ancient derelict stone Viking cottage wall, one of the dozens strewn throughout his homeland.

She sprang from behind the wall…

“Boo!” she taunted, grabbing him from behind with her hands barely reaching around his broad shoulders. “So, the old man never gave me hidin’ spot away then?”

He flexed rigid, startled face staring over the escarpment. All he could see was the violent waves crashing over the boulders below. Deaghlan’s abandoned fear had swiftly returned. “The devil be in you, young gal! He never said a word of ya. Y’ feisty beag vixen!”

Junoesque Doreen released him, pulling him around and planting a succulent bullseye kiss square on his lips. She laughed, saying, “Better teach me some manners, hadn’t ya?” She kissed him even harder and then dashed behind the stone wall and sat on the grass. “I’ll have m’ scarf and combs back then. But there’s no spanking, because you didn’t catch me now. Did you?”

Deaghlan had been completely swallowed by her high-spirited nature, which tailed in the vortex of her innocent Irish beauty. He fell helplessly by her side. Their eyes affixed upon each other’s as if it was always meant to be. He held her face with both hands feeling for her honesty and reaching for her soul. Again they kissed, both were in total disbelief of the other’s chemistry, then leaned on the billion-year-old stones. From their wind-shielded position, the pair gazed out over the blue-green Atlantic waterbody, which appeared as endless as time itself.

He handed back her belongings, uttering, “This is sheer madness… You have stolen m’ heart, in no time lassie. To be sure, I think I love you! Shenanigans and all.”

“I’ve waited a long time for you t’ come along, Mr O’Brien. Ya shan’t be lettin’ me down now. Can ye be counted on?”

“For sure, I’m the most trustworthy fella you’re ever likely t’ meet. Let’s come back ’ere again and again. I love it! We’ll call this our secret li’l meetin’ place, and not tell anyone else about it. Will ya marry me, already? I’m practically beggin’ ya, Doreen McCumhail.”

“I’ll have to think about that, now. Will ya come ta meet me Father? How far were ya plannin’ on walkin’ t’day?”

He stood up and reached for her hand to pull her up. “I’ll walk t’ the end of the Earth for your love. If that’s what it takes… Now, show me the way!”

The couple were married at St. Augustine’s Church, Kilshanny, the following March. It was a small intimate family and close friend’s affair. Doreen’s three older sisters, Mary, Clodagh, and Caitlin were her bridesmaids. Her father, Dermott, proudly gave her away. Deaghlan’s brother Sean and sister Laugemoran represented his side because, sadly their parents had been taken in a freak boating accident four years previously. His mates, Chris, Cabhan, Cairan, and Conlaoch, from the fledgeling band The Misty Irish C’s played a mixture of pop and traditional, whilst Doreen adlibbed the words. The whisky flowed and the dance went all night.

They rented a small house In Ennis where the carpenter had many contacts — soon forming a truly grounded relationship. Bolstered by Deaghlan’s sure-footedness and kept laughing with Doreen’s feisty sense of humour, a lifetime brimful of over-indulgent love sprawled like a venturesome road before them. Many evenings were spent sharing tales on the front porch with a glass of Irish whisky, Deaghlan plonked in his only family heirloom from Sir Cornelius; an ancient Victorian iron-backed chair, and Doreen in her grandfather’s mahogany Rococo chair.

The couple matured with the passing years refraining from children, by choice of Doreen, who never gave up on her dream to sing professionally. By the mid-1970s, still without her big break, the forthright woman began to lose faith in her ability to ever reach the big time. She had taken a job in Limerick as a shop assistant. Deaghlan consoled his lover by working harder at his family carpentry business, which had flourished in the country’s mini-boom. The Misty Irish C’s had made several records and always invited them to any gigs around the country, but it wasn’t the same. He kept his word by taking her for frequent walks along the Cliffs of Moher where they would reminisce about their unexpected meeting, which all seemed so long ago now. Every time they reached the old stone wall, they would stop and clown around, just as they did almost ten years ago.

During the spring of 1978, the now thirty-year-old Doreen met a man from Liverpool, England, who happened to venture into the perfumery where she worked. He browsed the shelves and heard her singing behind the counter.

“Beautiful voice you have there, miss. Are you a professional?”

“Oh, how I wish,” she said, turning to meet the customer. The 60s panda eye makeup had long-since vanished, but her big dark expression-filled eyes still retained the allure which had captured Deaghlan. “I’ve always wanted to be — but so far, no such luck. I’d do practically anythin’ to break through! So, what ya be interested in?”

The European man, in his forties, wore a sharp suit highlighted by snakeskin ankle boots. He had a moustache and long wavy hair. An unnecessary pair of large sunglasses were perched on his hairline. “Now you’ve really caught my interest in more than the fragrance I came in for,” he said in an Anglo-Spanish accent. “My name is Marlowe Johnroshe, I’m a music producer from the Merseyside. How would you like to do us both a big favour?”

She spread her hands apart on the counter, leaning in his direction. “Do go on!” Doreen’s plunging vee neckline was doing far more than barrack for her singing prowess.

“Firstly, a bottle of Yves Saint Laurent Opium, largest one you have.” Marlowe retrieved his wallet producing a business card and several hundred Irish pounds, all in twenties.

“Spray or splash on?”

“Let’s try the splash on, shall we?”

Doreen scavenged about for the popular scent and placed it on the countertop. “Who be this for, Mr Johnroshe? She’s a lucky gal in anyone’s language.”

“My sister… She won’t wear anything else. And secondly, take this card — if you want to try out at the Dublin Music Festival. I’m searching for something I believe you have. That is why I am here. Give me a call if you think you might be interested. Tomorrow would be fine. I can drive you everywhere.” His eyes swam outside to where a silver Aston Martin sat waiting. “Keep all the change. Let’s just call it the down payment of my investment, shall we?”

“You’d be jokin’ of course, Mr Johnroshe. You’ve barely heard a tune from me. I can’t possibly accept this!” She gawked at the crisp banknotes — then fell as silent as the sheeted dead. Inside her head, the imaginary wheels of success turned faster than she could cope with.

“Heard enough to know… and it’s Marlowe. I’m deadly serious miss, eh?”

She fanned the cash like a hand of cards. “Just call me Doreen. I may be in touch.”

He left her with a quizzing smile…

Doreen O’Brien drove home that afternoon with her head in a cloud of showbiz mania. Her beloved Deaghlan was working late, as usual, to finish their house he’d started building at Lahinch, on Liscannor Bay, each day after work. He arrived on dusk. As the curtain of night fell upon her that evening, she said nothing to Deaghlan about the auditioning, in case she failed.

After two months of meeting Marlowe three times a week, Doreen’s attitude had changed. An air of importance exuded from her usually devil-may-care persona. Though she still sang around the place they were living at, on weekends, the songs sounded different from the ones he was used to. Still, she said nothing of her surprise. One month later, he began arriving home before her and it was often dark. One night he questioned her. “Aye, I got t’ be askin’ ya, love. What are ye up to these days? I’ve nearly finished the house, an’ ya haven’t visited it for over a month. Y’ seem very tired lately too. Are y’ workin’ a second job or simply losin’ interest in our dreams?”

Gone was the fire in her eyes — replaced by the tiredness of long days. She gave him a peck on the cheek and replied, “I’ve never stopped dreamin’ Deaghlan. Mine are perhaps a wee tad bigger than yours. I’ll be goin’ ta Dublin for a week or two soon. I can’t tell ya why though. I just need ya ta trust me, okay?”

His face, which stared back helpless, seemed as unflustered as fate. “Dublin, y’ say? And what’s so special goin’ on there that ya can’t share it with y’ husband?”

“Oh Deaghlan,” she eased in her rich County Clare accent, “remember what I told ya when we first met?”

“O’ course I remember! Ya drove me mad up there with y’ teasin’ and jokin’ around… on the top of Moher. I’ll never forget it, ta be sure. Damned changed me forever, woman!”

“Exactly, Deaghlan… people are a-changin’ regularly—”

He interjected, “B’ Jesus, I’m comin’ ta Dublin with ye!”

“No! This is something only I can take care of, me boy!”

An argument, the likes of which they had never encountered before, followed. For the first time in their marriage, they slept in separate rooms. In the morning, when he woke up to apologise, she was not there. He was left with no option other than to trust her words. A lonesome week slogged by. Then a phone call. Another week — another phone call. Doreen sounded fine and reassured him that all was okay, and she would be returning on Wednesday, in three days.

And return she did…

The couple moved into the house he had finally completed — however, something had drastically changed. The year that followed was an unpleasant metamorphosis by comparison to the previous twelve harmonious ones. Devoted Deaghlan felt as if he was negotiating an unpredictable roller-coaster ride. Her mood swings increased by the equivalent level that her laughter decreased. He began to feel quite ill, simply putting it down to the stress of their situation. Often distant to him, she began dressing in expensive labels and had changed her perfume from his favourite; Diorella by Dior to Yves Saint Laurent Opium. Their walks along the trail above the Cliffs of Moher diluted to once every three months. He started doing the trek alone, enraged by the feeling of being there without her. Deaghlan grew suspicious and decided to follow her to work. He waited across the street in the cosy coffee shop owned by his mate Conlaoch O’Toole, bass guitarist with The Misty Irish C’s. At 10:35 am, he heard the little bell above the shop door ringing. Deaghlan stared across the rim of his mug, as a bearded debonair gentleman with long hair entered the perfumery. His heart fell into a world of pain when he saw their hands clasping across the counter through the big glass window. Doreen had no idea that she had caused it.

He whispered into the cup, “Holy Motter o’ God, I just hope he’s a relation or somethin’, that’s all.” Deaghlan masked his face with the mug to watch them leaving together. Her beaming smile was the very one which he hadn’t seen for quite some time. Doreen’s laughter made him feel sicker than he’d been before. He left the coffee shop with his heart dragging along the ground behind him. Marlowe Johnroshe was no more a music producer than he was the country’s Prime Minister; he had made a fortune from selling cocaine to rock bands. He was, however, a master of seduction whose charming words and spoils of cash had quickly poisoned her honour. Foolish Doreen had become entangled in his web of duplicity, and she’d sampled more than just his wares of white powder. Her involvement with him had cast the loyal affections of Deaghlan aside like a worn-out pair of shoes.

The burly husband said nothing when they met that evening, because he loved her so much that he couldn’t risk losing her. He went about his business as though nothing was wrong, mindful of keeping a watchful eye on her every move. He desperately wanted to confront the philandering pair but hoped it would soon be over and he would get her back. A month later he fell very ill forcing a visit to his doctor.

“Somehow you are slowly being poisoned by potassium chloride, Deaghlan. The blood tests I have had done on you are showing this almost undetectable increase in your levels,” remarked the brilliant American physician, with a look of unbridled concern. “Who on Earth would want to do something like that?”

“Must be just m’ own stupid self that done it. I’ve been crook recently, so I upped the ante of m’ dosage,” he replied, “I’ll be more careful from now on, Doc!” Knowing that divorce for staunch Catholics was out of the question, he now feared the real truth…

Deaghlan watched his food and drink intake over the next month and began to recover but acted as though he was ill. He noticed the fuss Doreen had been making of him lately and accepted the attention. Still, he said nothing…

On a glorious Saturday summer morning during July 1979, Doreen mentioned that she had to work. Apparently, a new fragrance line from a recently established manufacturer, Renzo Rosso was being instated at the shop and she had to set up the display. Deaghlan waved good-bye, saying he needed to finish a job up in Abbeyknockmoy in Galway, anyway. He told her he would have a surprise meal prepared for her return. They kissed. He drove straight up to the ancient village to paint the customer’s new walls and collect his money. By 2:30 pm he was on his way back and decided to encompass the view from the Doolin Cliff Walk, since it was such a clear day. As usual, Deaghlan tipped his cap to the odd passer-by wishing them a grand day. He observed a pair of peregrine falcons plummeting towards the Atlantic at blinding speed, each seizing an unsuspecting pigeon in mid-flight and flying off. In the distance, his keen eyes caught sight of the little stone ruins of the Viking cottage, and his heart skipped a beat. The sea breeze was minimal, and so, he decided to pay it a visit. Despite his troublesome marriage, with such a fine day surrounding him and a pocket replete with cash, and having just witnessed nature in its rawest, he felt good about life. Keeping well away from the edge, as always, Deaghlan drew closer to the crest of the hill — clear was the stone wall. A smile found its way to his face.

Then the unexpected happened…

As he approached, the distinct sounds of laughter invaded his ears. It was her laugh. His mind catapulted back nearly fourteen years, to when Doreen burst from behind the overlapping-stone structure. His smile sank to a scowl at the sight of Marlowe grasping for her waistline. They sauntered onto the pathway and kissed. They hadn’t seen him. Seeing it right here, in blatant dishonest view, a knife of deceitful shame pierced his heart. Deaghlan saw his love disappear as swiftly as the glint of light does on a turning sword. His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay. A voice angrier than the North Atlantic waves shouted, “Aye, I be right the first time around, weren’t I? The devil be in you, young gal!” Deaghlan launched toward their embrace, stopping short because they were near the extremity. “What the hell a’ ya thinkin’? I know all ‘bout ya tryin’ ta poison me! These cliffs were ours! For t’ love o’ Mary, I’m wishin’ I’d never stepped foot up here in me life. It’s drivin’ me stark ravin’ crazy!”

Doreen spun around in Marlowe’s arms. It was impossible to conceal her guilt. She had her full lips pressed silently together. She had her thick black hair free in the gentle breeze and, as always, those piercing eyes, as deeply dark — as are the desert skies. Suddenly, she broke into a Delilah laugh right at his hurting face. In an act of malice, she stroked her fingers through Johnroshe’s hair.

“Who are you?” uttered the brazen Marlowe. Deaghlan did not answer.

“Why lover,” Doreen grinned, “he was m’ husband, once!” She kissed Marlowe briefly, then added, “Ya don’t have to be too concerned, not only is he nearly dead — but the scaredy-cat is terrified of the Moher’s sensational abyss!” She enlarged her eyes. “Boo!”

Within a second, O’Brien stepped forward, placing his strong hands against the pair and shoved them mercilessly over the edge. Their screams vanished into the breaking whitecaps. He stood inches from the cliff face, without fear and quietly said, “Aye, ta be sure, darlin’ — sheer madness. It seems like ya cured me.” Nobody saw them falling…

A prisoner in my own country!

What mysterious scandals unfold, when hidden deep within the pages of privacy from a loved one’s own handwriting, after lying dormant for decades. The things we do for love! This amazing story will be sure to tug on your heartstrings, but don’t let your coffee go cold…

 

Several years ago, Susan Lyons was rummaging through an old metal trunk in the attic of her grandmother’s two-storey house in Melbourne. The home, one of three owned by the wonderful old lady, had been left to Susan in the will. The other two houses went to her parents and brother William, respectively. Unfortunately, Grandma Riedesel, as she was always referred to, had passed away at the ripe old age of ninety-four, of natural causes. Susan and her mother, Eve, had been given the unpleasant task of sorting through the deceased’s worldly possessions. Childhood memories flooded back to the thirty-eight-year-old bank teller, at the turn of every treasured item, which bore pertinence to her relationship with her mother’s mother. The fading photographs, all neatly stacked and tied with a piece of string, of herself and little William sitting proudly on the handsome woman’s knee at Christmas. The crumbly-cornered, black-and-white ones of her granny as a woman far younger than she. Several others brought tears to both women when stared at and fondled. These were of Eve’s father who had been taken by a sniper bullet during the Vietnam War in 1967. In the frame of one print he was cuddling his beloved. On the reverse side, written in his hand was the inscription: Us at the entrance to Royal Melbourne Zoo, 1963… together for life! Naturally, Susan had never met him because her mother was only a teen when he’d failed to return from service. His posthumous medals of honour brought further tears when they were unwrapped from the cushioned cloth inside an old shoebox.

“My he was a striking figure of a man, wasn’t he Mum?” said Susan, staring hard at the image, her fingers carefully gripping its broad white border.

“What I remember of him, yes. And a kinder gentleman you couldn’t wish to meet, either. Curse that wretched Asian war for taking him away. It wasn’t even our show!”

Around them the dust sat heavy, and a plethora of cobwebs spanned most corners of the ceiling and joined floor to walls. Tea chests and suitcases were stacked in precarious fashion, and shadows attempted to withhold their secrets. The bulb, hanging from its twisted-cloth wiring cable, was a dim one. Her clothes, many in plastic bags, others just folded in piles, had the smell of memory about them. They didn’t care — in these small confines lay the remanence of nearly a century of historic connection. In no hurry, Susan and Eve continued sorting through the tired objects that had meant so much at one point, casting comments between “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. An elbow out of place caused a large box to falter from its position atop four larger ones. When the lid fell away, a pair of crooked deep-brown eyes stared back at them. These eyes of love were set in a worn furry face with a piece of one ear missing and several stitches coming adrift from the black triangular nose. The fur used to be yellow but now appeared a more darkish ochre with splodges of brown.

Eve immediately reached in to raise the teddy in the dullish light. “It’s Ruxpin Cuddlesworth, oh-my-gosh!” she chirped, thrusting the dusty old bear to her cheek.

“Careful Mum, you don’t know where it’s been!” said Susan with concern.

“Not an ‘it’, dear. This was my first friend in the whole world. He used to belong to your Grandmother, and she passed him down to me. He is a 1920s model. I’d wondered what had become of him.” Smelly old Ruxpin’s weathered little face appeared to be smiling. “Oh, thank you Mum, for saving him all these years.” She eased him away and manipulated his paws and legs on their swivels, to sit him down in the typical teddy bear pose.

Susan looked at her mother’s excitement — remembering her own first serious teddy bear, received when she was four. Her name was Drop-stitch Gertie, because, even from new there was a loop in her nose triangle. She wondered about the coincidence between both soft toys and also thought how ironical it was that people never forget their names. She began opening boxes, in the hope of finding Gertie’s thick, shaggy, brown, mohair form amongst the paraphernalia. She stopped looking when an opened cardboard box revealed something of greater interest. Inside, was a mahogany jewellery box alongside a fawn leather-bound blank-page-style diary. Stuck to the diary by two rubber bands was a folded piece of paper. On the outside of the folds were the words:

Susan passed it to her mother and opened the drawers of the jewellery box which were stuffed with photographs. The wrinkly images were of Grandma Riedesel at a P.O.W. Camp. It was obvious to her because the figures were all lined up with slouch-hat-wearing soldiers patrolling, and in the background, she could plainly see the barbed wire fence. Susan leafed her way through, placing one behind the other, as her mother started reading the diary. “I never knew this about Grandma Gracie. Why was she locked up Mum?”

Eve’s fingers had parted the tardy-looking secret-holder near its centre. It separated there because of a photograph, fading into sepia, of four teenage girls dressed in Charleston-style flapper regalia, inclusive with hats and fake cigarette holders, lay quietly. “Shhh, listen to this,” she said, gradually turning the pages. “That I did know about. It was because of her surname, even though she was a third-generation Aussie, it is of German heritage. They arrested thousands of people at the start of World War Two — if they suspected them of anything whatsoever. Men, women and children of many nationalities were sent to camps just like those ones you are looking at. Not really prisoners of war — more detainees, at least, that’s what Mum always called it… Yes, I knew all about it, but I most certainly did not know about this!”

Eve went back through the pages — to begin at the paragraph below 17th December 1940. “After the outbreak of war last year, Australia fell into absolute chaos. Troops had been enlisted and sent to the far-reaching corners of the globe. Women now did the work of men and many enlisted to begin training as nurses. I do not properly understand and neither do my friends. We had learned about World War One at school, although, still could not grasp the idea of it reoccurring.”

Susan, Eve and Ruxpin sat in a small circle facing each other as the story came to life…

She cleared her throat to commence reading the dossier, which had the dates at the top of each page, but they were in random daily, weekly and monthly accounts. “We had been rounded up at an ungodly hour of the night and sent to an internment camp at Rushworth, Tatura. A lost little town in the Goulbourn Valley. It is a date that I shall never forget. The weather was stinking hot and I cried. It took ages to get there and we were all made to feel like criminals. Men and women are segregated. I am located in Camp 3 along with my Mother, older sister Hilda, and two of our friends, Anne-Maree Schmidt and Gwenaël Ludendorff who is a very pretty girl, although sadly, she has a slight mental disorder. It is some sort of autistic syndrome and she loves everybody but can’t stand being touched by anyone except me. Gwen is terrified. We, along with all of the other women, and I presume the men in the other camps, have been interrogated. The Australian authorities are extremely suspicious of spies. This is not what a respectable sixteen-year-old expects to have happen in her own country of birth, but in some strange way, I understand it all. We each have an area about the size of a bathroom to exist in, with three communal washrooms. The food is very basic, and many of the vegetables are grown in the farm section.

25th December 1940. Well, what can I say… I have just experienced the saddest Christmas of my whole life. The entire camp tried their hardest to make it a joyous occasion, but nobody wanted to be here. We all wanted to be at home celebrating with dinner and cake. Mother is wonderful and I think right now I would be shattered without her love and support. Perhaps New Year’s will be a little more enticing. Apparently, there is a bit of a bash being put on at the main hall. We have been told we can attend but have to return to the barracks immediately after midnight. Never mind, I will be able to bury my nose back into the last few chapters of Huckleberry Finn. I have fallen in love with novel reading recently and find Mark Twain to be particularly good.”

Eve continued reading aloud. Each page was filled with the emotional turmoil which all these unfortunate victims of the war effort were experiencing in their cloistered environment. It was a dirty and unpleasant habitat. Susan listened intently feeling the grip of the conflict around her. After thirty minutes, Eve was nearing the flapper photograph. She continued…

“12th July 1942. Still no sign to the end of the war, which we all thought might be over by now. The crude tin sheds are very hot in summer and very cold in winter. I have written about this a number of times, but it can’t be expressed how miserable it makes us all. All the girls are pitching in to help, whether it is cleaning or cooking, washing clothes or mending them. A routine has been enforced to simplify our work. A few close friendships have developed for me and I am slowly growing accustomed to internment lifestyle. The boredom and loneliness of stolen freedom feels unbearable. To ease this, the Australian Army holds monthly dances with live swing bands playing, but our dance partners are always garrison soldiers. We are treated fairly respectfully.

Sue interrupted her mother. “Sounds dreadful to me. What on earth was the government of the time thinking? Obviously, these innocent women had no secrets. They would have been far better off allowing them to continue with their productive civilian lives! Don’t you think, Mum?”

“Easy for us to think so, Susan… but these were desperate times, my dear. Now, let me proceed.” Eve knew she was reaching the section which had caught her attention. “14th August 1942. During the middle of a bitterly cold winter, word came through to the detainees that a new detachment of soldiers would be taking over part of Camp 3. This was not important to us because although some half-decent friendships with the troops had been established, they were often rotated for various reasons. Some of the women managed to acquire a few extra rations on occasion, as well as the odd weekly bar of chocolate from two or three of the more-manipulatable Quartermasters. They were always careful to keep space between us though. Fraternisation with detainees was not permitted for the boys in uniform by their superior officers, and as I’m led to believe, punishable by court-martial. As I lay awake at night on so many occasions with only Ruxpin Cuddlesworth to keep me warm, my mind races with worry about our foreseeable future. My mother has been taken ill with Pneumonia and been transferred to an army hospital but neither Hilda nor I have been able to visit her. I have grave concerns for her wellbeing. Hilda has taken over the role as our main guardian. I am now eighteen and playing nursemaid to my dear friend Gwen who is struggling with the claustrophobic feeling of living behind the wire. She is a very poor reader, so I read out loud to her every afternoon. 21st August 1942. It was freezing last Wednesday night. An officer entered our quarters around six o’clock. We had never seen him before. This man is unattractive to look at, however, he seems gentle and kind. He arrived with two other soldiers wearing Red Cross armbands, announcing himself as Medical Corps Officer, Major Rivan Janus PsyD. He said he was doing ground-breaking research in the field of psychiatry and was going to help Gwen. She was very unhappy about the discussion which occurred. The psychiatrist major said he needed to work closely with her at the makeshift hospital for about one week each month. I mentioned to him that my mother was there and he said he would see what he could do for us. I am hoping to tie a visit with her and my mother in a few days. They took Gwen away.”

“That should cheer her up a bit,” remarked Susan, shuffling her bottom about. She was getting pins-and-needles from sitting cross-legged on the floor. “This Major Janus seems to be quite a reasonable fellow!”

“Stop interrupting Susan, or I shall save it for later. We have a lot to do here and haven’t got all day. Would you rather hear the story afterwards, downstairs?”

“Gosh no! This is far more in the genre of things… cooped up here in the attic. Golly, I almost feel like I’m right with her!”

“Good. The next section is dated 29th August 1942. They would not let me visit the hospital last week, and when Gwen finally did arrive back at the camp last night, something was clearly wrong. Major Janus told us she was responding well to the therapy and said he needed to see her again in early September. She refused to communicate with anyone. Instead, no matter what I asked her, she just shook her head and cried into her pillow. Hilda and Anne-Marie are going to talk to her tomorrow. All else is managing fine in our barracks. I have just finished reading The Prince and the Pauper, another classic historical fiction book by Twain. 12th September 1942. It is very late at night and I am writing secretly under candlelight. Our curfew has long since removed the lighting. Several hours ago, Major Janus brought Gwenaël back to the camp. She is worse than ever. The therapy isn’t working at all. Gwen has some bruising, which Major Janus reported to his superior officer as attempted self-harm. She has never done anything like that before. When he removed her five days ago, the poor girl fought like a cat to prevent him. The other two soldiers, who were always the same two, held her down to receive a needle. This pacified her. He is very aloof towards the other women in our barracks and tells us nothing of her progress, other than; ‘It’s going well’. Again, he refused to help me get to see my mother. I do not like him anymore.”

Eve fell silent, running her fingers down the pages until she reached the page just before the dress-up photograph.

The stoutly built bank teller appeared concerned. “What’s wrong Mum?”

“Sorry Susan, but that section only spoke of the remainder of September. It was just elaborating about the mundane chores and camp discipline, plus a few more books she has read. We’ll get back to that when we show it to William and your father. Here’s the bit that caught my attention. 3rd October 1942. Gwen has finally opened up about her treatment to me. She has made me swear not to talk to the others. I am entering it in this manuscript, just in case anything ever happens to me. I am appalled by what is going on. Gwen said she is being ordered to wash, then she’s taken to a small padded room and locked inside. There are no windows and only a hard mattress on the floor with a wooden chair beside it. She does not know whether it is day or night. She told me that Doctor or Major Janus, whatever he is supposed to be, enters several times a day to have his way repeatedly with her under mild sedation. He forces her to perform all kinds of dastardly sexual acts at scalpel point. She said he calls her insulting sluttish names and says she is stupid. He warned her that if she ever spoke of his behaviour to anyone, he would take her somewhere in the night and cut out her tongue, then cut her to pieces. He told her that he would file a report saying she escaped, and that it was of her own doing. He told her his up-to-date examination report mentions irrational and aggressive behaviour. I know Gwen is not lying because we have been friends since we were three years of age. She has always told me everything, including the fact that right up until now she was a virgin, just as Anne-Marie and myself are. I hate what he is doing to her, but I feel quite helpless. I don’t think the authorities would believe her story. Doctor Janus has made it clear to all that the poor girl is delusional. Talk about an appropriate name. I cannot even tell the others in case they do something which puts her at risk of serious harm or perhaps even being killed. I shall never forget his face as long as I live. 21st October 1942. They came for Gwenaël, an hour ago. When I opened my mouth to confront the major, Gwen’s eyes begged me to shut up. She knew how angry I was, but she is terrified about the consequences of it being revealed. We hugged and she whispered; ‘I’ll be alright my friend — take care’. I feel more than just trapped behind the fence. I desperately need to see my poor mother before I go mad.”

Susan was gripping the other pictures of the P.O.W. Camp tightly. Connecting with it visually added to the horror of where her granny was. She saw the barbed wire even more clearly now and felt very sad for this ugly secret which had never been disclosed. “Mum, I could not go through what Granma Riedesel went through. I am so soft.”

Eve lifted out the eight-by-ten image, placing it between the rear of the diary’s cover and the last page. “You might be surprised, dear. 29th October 1942. This was the worst we have seen her. I think her spirit has been broken forever. All I can do is comfort her on her bed. She hardly speaks and will not eat. She is not interested in listening to me reading to her either. I thought it might help. It is very difficult for me to put pen to paper because Gwen’s circumstance is presiding over my every thought. Some good news is that my mother has recovered, according to Janus, and will be returning shortly. 5th November 1942. Last night it was raining very heavily. So heavily, in fact, that you could hardly see outside but I went for a walk regardless, to clear my mind. The campgrounds were deserted. I strolled amongst the crude gardens out at the front of the tin sheds. Suddenly, I saw that slight figure, whom I have grown to despise, just up ahead. He was approaching and wearing a raincoat, but I knew exactly who it was. We were both alone out there. He stopped in my path and I became scared. I looked around but saw no sign of life, except for the dull lights near the guard tower in the distance. He asked if Gwen was okay, and I don’t know what made me say it, but I accused him of raping my friend. He produced a scalpel and grinned right at me, calling her a foolish girl. I became very angry and reached down into the garden and picked up a large jagged rock. I rammed it hard as I could at the side of his head again and again. Before I knew what I was doing, Major Janus had fallen to the ground without a sound. I stared at him dead and bleeding, then turned and ran back to our hut without being seen. I was ashamed at what I had just done, and never told any of the other girls, but somehow, when we were all interviewed the following day, I think they knew. We all denied knowing anything.”

Susan Lyons sat with her mouth wide open. Was her beloved favourite grandmother a murderer? She couldn’t speak…

Eve did not read the account any further. She reopened the cover which was marked by the sepia-coloured print of the four girls. Opposite it, on the last page, she read out loud, “This is the only diary I have ever kept.” The emotionally moved woman looked at the photograph of her mother and Aunt Hilda, with Anne-Maree Schmidt and Gwen Ludendorff, pretending to attend a Great Gatsby party several years before the war’s outbreak. She hugged the diary tightly to her breast and stared down at the teddy bear’s long-since-hidden misty eyes. “You have known about this all along… haven’t you Ruxpin Cuddlesworth?”

Susan said, “At least she has closure, now that we know. Well, I for one forgive her. How brave she was. This diary is a symbol of real courage!”

Eve instantly replied, “Absolutely, I agree dear! Come to think of it now… I do recall Mum telling me about Gwen Ludendorff being properly diagnosed several decades after the war. Asperger’s Syndrome was not appropriately identified and named until 1981, I believe it was. Gwen never married and lived with us under Mum’s care until she passed away in the 1990s. Susan, do you think we should show this to the boys?”

Before Eve received her answer, the feeble bulb, dangling at the end of its twisted-cloth insulation wire, flickered several times then fizzled into blackness. The only glow shone like an eerie omen from the manhole entrance, hidden behind Gracie Riedesel’s hand-painted portrait…

Here’s another ten-minute blast for you!

You never know who you can really trust… do you?

             I love this twist…

 

“Let your Imagination Inspire!” 

 

Some people search for everlasting love. Some people search for friendship. Others simply play a cold-hearted game of “Love ’em and shove ’em!”

“Death shall soon be your welcome friend after you feel the suffocation of loneliness eating away at your heart!” vexed the chiselled features of Grigori des Vislosky. He swallowed his wine-filled challis in one enraged breath.

“Perhaps so, my deceitful lover…” replied his beautiful wench, her tattered dress falling from her shoulder from the strength of his grasp. Auburn hair ablaze after love-making. “But soon you will regret the very sound of my name. For you see my handsome charlatan, ‘tis you who shall soon be walking alongside the shadow of the Grim Reaper!”

A pause in the blur of key-striking brought the device to silence. “I’m a genius!” she quoted aloud, clasping her palms in triumph. Only moments prior, the passions of impulsive finger-filled energy were caressing their small, circular, lettered faces of creativity with the grace of a concert pianist. She extracted bliss from her own written words.

Lady Dandelion as she liked to refer to herself was perched like Queen Victoria in her wicker chair. Naturally, as always by sun’s glorious set, in her hand swirled a tall gin and tonic. The veranda beneath her sandals had a light layer of dust and the slow-turning fan above did little to move the air. The woman’s true name was Hilary Dandling and she felt very rich.  Already on her fifth gushy novel and just two months beyond her fourth husband, Hilary had taken to writing, inspired by the works of Karen Blixen the Danish heiress who married her friend Bror Blixen-Finecke in Kenya, to save dignity. Nearing thirty years, back in the early 1900’s titled women who went unwed were frowned upon. Alas, poor Karen’s marriage to the unfaithful Bror failed dismally, but her story of honesty, strength, self-respect and courage is world renowned. Her best-known book ‘Out of Africa’ was a romanticized but true depiction of her early life. In Blixen’s pages, Lady Dandelion saw the uselessness of men. To her, they were merely toys of temporary entertainment. Her four husbands, by coincidence, had all passed away by a heart attack before reaching fifty. She grinned in artificial helplessness with tears rolling, as the body-bags were individually wheeled away. Hilary was nothing like the woman she so much admired. Her favourite saying of; “Who on Earth needs a husband when you’ve got money” placed her well amongst the small peer group who tagged along for hand-outs. What few of them realized, was that the bulk of Lady Dandelion’s meagre dowry was assembled from insurance payouts and not from her book royalties, as she would have them all believe. No one even cast so much as a hint of suspicion at her of murder…

Choosing to feed the role of eccentric authoress with all of the correct props, her novels were obsessively clunked-out on an ageing Olivetti typewriter. She wrote as slow as a politician’s decision-making, but it mattered not, because any increase in Hilary’s typing pace would have only served to dilute the already watered-down plots. She always wore floral cotton dresses. Her face never missed a day’s heavy make-up. She twisted her mother’s metre-long loop of pearls twice around her long neck. The sordid evening air, filled with her metronomic click ─ click ─ clicks, weaved its way through her flock of excessively-dyed, curly, raunchy-auburn hair, then on through her open front door. The scent of smouldering ashtray butts was collected by this breeze. Chain-smoker Hilary, of course, owned a scruffy little white dog, whose shaggy mop of fur lay coiled at her feet almost constantly. His only breaks from her constant chatter, to his pitching-to-attention ears, came when he would trudge off to the other end of the veranda for a nibble or a drink of water. Skokie the hairy cross-breed even followed the romance writer indoors to recharge her G and T, which was usually on the anniversary of each page’s completion.

“Another villain put to the sword!” she exclaimed, withdrawing the typed sheet, making a speedy ratchet sound as the accelerated roller spun around. Hilary stared at her freshest page. “See Skokie-boy, young and handsome Grigori des Vislosky may have been… but he is no match for the shy sweet Esmerelda! He thought his looks and lies would win her over. Ha!” She downed the tarty alcoholic splendour, ice-cubes and all. “Best go get another, Skokie, while I’m on a roll!”

At that moment her ancient but necessary mobile phone rang. Wicker chair squeaking and creaking under her weight, Hilary stared toward the nuisance sound, watching the chunky plastic handpiece vibrate its way along her coffee table. She began hoping it would simply cease irritating her. It did. Probably just another admirer, she pondered, immediately celebrating her resistance to the temptation of answering it by lighting another cigarette. Faithful as ever, Skokie waddled in behind her to her makeshift bar.

That night after four more pages; therefore four more G and T’s, weary Hilary flopped into bed to contemplate her novel’s dramatic conclusion. Her lung-shaking cough barked louder than Skokie ever could dream of. She wrestled with several ideas, but her tired brain, clouded from typing, was throbbing with opaque blandness from one too many of everything. It struggled to fire. At the foot of her bed, the scruffy little dog tweaked his eyebrows in doggy fashion at her tossing and turning. He was probably wondering why on earth his mistress did this to herself every single night…

Six months later, Lady Dandelion was at the Southern Manchester shopping mall, busily signing copies of ‘What’s Your Plan B?’ Although her mind lived extensively in the colourful rugged African landscape, her home address was 37 Old Pottery Road, Lancashire, England. Her grin widened with each endorsed purchase. Her wink at the menfolk became sexier, and the plum in her mouth grew ever larger. One well-dressed man stopped for a prolonged discussion. He was as handsome as her mind had pictured Grigori des Vislosky. She obliged the gentleman with an extensive tenure of her time. As he drew away to leave, the man leaned in closely.

“I’ve always admired your work, Lady Dandelion,” he flattered. “Would you be kind enough to do me the honour of accompanying me to dinner tonight? Only if you’re free, of course.”

“How thoughtful. What a kind offer,” she praised back, waving her hand at her false blush. “Why, I do believe I am available to oblige you with companionship this evening. Mr…?”

“Doctor Raymond Barrington-Derbyshire. At your service ma’am!” He bowed. His expensive voice crisping all the vowels perfectly.

“Medical doctor?” her eyebrows raising like a guillotine blade being hauled up to its apex.

“Medical specialist. And still single too.” He released from his bow.

She slid a business card across the table ─ her mind effervescing at the possibilities of true wealth. “Here’s my card Raymond. Surprise me at seven?” Hilary hoped she could stay off the sauce long enough to land this massive catch-of-the-day.

A silver Bentley pulled up outside 37 Old Pottery Road at three minutes to seven. A gloved chauffeur’s hand opened the door. At once Hilary appeared at her own doorstep, sober, titivated, elegantly dressed and fully manicured. She was way too keen but Raymond didn’t seem to mind. He met her halfway from her front gate, kissing the back of her hand on perfect cue. Caruthers fired-up the elegant silver beast. The big saloon purred away without so much as startling a mouse. Skokie’s stumpy tail wagged from the other end of his panting pink tongue. At long last Mummy…

A delightful evening was underscored with stimulating conversation and laughter, suffice to inspire a return date. And another. And yet another. It led to the whole shooting match. Before the year was out, Mrs Hilary Barrington-Derbyshire strode white-dressed and veiled, arm-in-arm down the lengthy aisle of the same church her other ill-fated four husband’s had paid for over the past seven years. She never said a word of it to her new specialist husband. His destiny awaited.

Hilary did not let Raymond down. From a physical perspective, the inaccurate adjective beautiful would be far better replaced with charming or attractive. Her sunny days of beauty had long since set. Back then, men fell at her feet, literally! Now with her enticing looks transformed into experience, she became a bedroom virtuoso of impeccable standards. Hilary’s almost wunderkind passionate performances, born from her novels, came to life with impresario management skills. “Don’t hold anything back, Raymond dear! Love me like you’ll choke on your own appetite for passion! Let your imagination inspire!” she would repeatedly say when dancing him around the bedroom like a doyenne.

“Where do you get your ideas for all of your incredible stories from?” the love-smacked doctor would reply, trying to divert her from his inadequacy, completely lost for answers to her dazzling skills.

“They’d been bottled-up for years. I hid inside my own sweet passion-filled mind. I restricted my desires, kept myself waiting! Waiting! Waiting! I observed the world via extensive travel, staying pure, in order to fulfil my chapters with what they deserved.”  She lied with the eloquence of a soap opera superstar. “I was born to meet a man like you!”

Raymond tolerated her booze, which had substantially backed-off, much to the enhancement of her storylines. He even stomached her lust for nicotine, with the view that it was all part and parcel of her chemistry. The flavour of which Dr Barrington-Derbyshire very much enjoyed. The truth of her lack-lustre sales became evident. This he also overlooked. Forty-two-year-old Hilary kept up her facade for two and a half more books ─ taking nearly three years to publish them.

But now it was time to claim all her winnings…

Friday was killing-day for diabolical Hilary. She had prepared the lethal dose of digitalis, enough to stimulate his heart into irreversible overdrive. The foxglove derived drug had been successful on her previous husbands. There was no reason to think it wouldn’t work on Raymond. He was due home at five. Hilary always chose Fridays, because her promise of ‘Friday afternoon delight’ to all her spouses, ensured that they came home on time, eager to please and compliant with all her requests. She sat by the double-sash window of their large house in Manchester’s dress-circle neighbourhood, to listen for the Bentley. This afternoon had proven very convenient also because Caruthers had the last Friday of every month off.  To allow her to work uninterrupted, Hilary’s dog Skokie was staying over at her favourite niece Carmen Mylanta’s house, some distance across town. Miss Mylanta always acted as the terrier’s carer when she took leave of absence for any reason.

The car arrived. The front door opened. The queen-of-farce wore her sheer sky-blue negligee to greet him ─ flesh exposing from all extremities. His favourite music streamed from the sound system. The charade of tomfoolery commenced. Blind-folds and riding-crops. Feathers and filigree masks ─ they used it all. As per her customary technique, the glasses of champagne sat chilled and inviting beside their bed. His with a golden stag emblem on a tiny chain around its stem. Hers with a similar golden swan emblem. More bottles lay in wait. Between primaeval romps, they both slurped heavily on the bubbly aphrodisiac stimulant. Very cleverly, between disguises and sex-acts, she had been dropping small amounts of digitalis into his champagne. Small enough to be indistinguishable, but deadly as it would collect in his digestive system, rushed to his bloodstream via the aerated alcohol. After six or seven glasses, he would collapse into a stupor then his vital organs would cease to operate.

Strangely, she was the one who felt life slipping away…

“Let your imagination inspire!” perked the doctor.

“I feel dreadful,” wimped the murderess, coughing with more than her usual barking smoker’s hack. “What is happening to me?”

“Touché Darling! I knew exactly what you were up too. You’re not as good an actress as you think, my little puppet! Silly woman. I swapped the little chains while you were busy in the bathroom,” said Raymond, wearing a nasty smirk. “You see my dear, you are a very infamous widow Hilary. However, something you aren’t aware of, is that I am an infamous widower! You will now become my sixth dead wife! My wealth has been assembled in much the same way as yours!”

With nothing more to do now but hasten her demise, she drinks the remainder of her perilous bubbly and dies in his arms. Raymond’s expression aglow now pulls the glass from her fingers. He is elated at outsmarting the trashy-love-story novelist. He closes her staring eyes, uttering, “All of your pilfered mammon is now mine… Good night Lady Dandelion!”

But a strange twist thwarts his plan…

Months later an ingenious police investigator discovers she has confessed to all of the murders of her previous four husband’s cryptically in her novels. All of her female protagonists had an uncanny mirror-like similarity to her, with each plot an echo of her own life’s conspiracy. Even Esmerelda in the fifth one was Hilary’s middle name. This name had been the catalyst. And so, as a result, her small fortune is confiscated by the police and a governmental executive decision was made to bequest the money to its correct beneficiary. Raymond received nothing. His suspicious case is being examined by the same detective. Hilary’s will had left everything to Skokie.

Niece Carmen Mylanta, who was caring for the scruffy little dog, now has executor rights to issue him a life of comfort. They were last seen in Acapulco on a Li-lo bed in a swimming pool, where Carmen and Skokie were accompanied by a sexy French Poodle…